Black Bears Weekend Takeaway: December 4th and 6th vs. New Jersey

Photo: Jon Pitonzo/ FOHS Media Faction

Maryland was riding high going into this weekend against the Titans, but the Black Bears were quite humbled on the Friday night. It seemed like the day off between the games helped the Black Bears and they came back with more life on Sunday to garner a split out of the weekend.

The Titans team speed seemed to give the Black Bears fits on the weekend. Whether it be coupling their speed with puck possession or getting behind the defense, the Titans got plenty of chances on net and keeping the play alive thanks to their team speed. Many times on Friday, using that speed to get past the Black Bears defense and getting plenty of opportunities on goal. The threats seemed to be minimized on Sunday, but still were there as the Titans seemed to have a step on the Black Bears.

That created a lot of turnovers on the breakouts, as well. That said, at least in Sunday’s game– the support for the puck carrier in the own zone wasn’t as much as I thought it should be. The Black Bears seemed to go for the stretch pass a lot to try and get something going offensively and break the tough forecheck, but it often resulted in neutral zone interceptions or icings.

Discipline is another squawking point I’ve said before and will continue to do so now. Maryland had to defense against 11 power plays for New Jersey this weekend. Luckily, only two power play goals were scored, but the fact the Titans were given so many in the first place isn’t a good sign. The Black Bears are the most penalized team in the NAHL with 332 PIMs on the season and have been shorthanded a total of 78 times– most in the NAHL by 31 attempts. The PK does rank 10th in the NAHL, however, which is nice; but you don’t want to be shorthanded an average of six times a game.

The hustle on Sunday’s game was much needed after Friday. Grady Friedman getting on the board quick had to be a huge boost form the Black Bears, as well as getting some goal support for Karsten Bourgoine in his NAHL debut. But it didn’t stop there– Jude Kurtas creating chances in the third, Josh Nixon using his speed to help advance the puck, Luke Mountain hustling to negate an icing after an empty-net attempt late in the third. It was a welcome chance from what could have been if they let Friday really get into their heads.

And speaking of Bourgoine, he came in Friday night, faced 20 shots, got the nod Sunday and looked okay during his debut. As a tall goalie, his game might not be as refined as some other goalies out there, but stopping 57 of 64 is pretty solid for the new netminder. This wasn’t Michael Morelli’s weekend after his stellar play last weekend, but Morelli took it in stride and actually got the puck for Bourgoine at the end of the game to commemorate his first NAHL win. When you see support like that, you know you have a pretty tight tandem.

Another step forward was the team coming back after being down and getting the win. I mentioned it last weekend, but the consistency is a good thing. Sunday’s game as about growth of this team. They didn’t let Friday bug them too much that they got down on themselves and they didn’t let the Titans system choke them up too much. They made the adjustments needed and dug in in order to get the two points and get back at the top of the East Division standings.

The elephant in the room, though, was the New Jersey Titans equipment manager directing traffic all weekend for the Titans, even removing his mask to do so at times. It’s all gamesmanship, sure, but you usually let that yelling come from the bench from the players or coaches…not usually the equipment manager. He was one of the more annoying parts of the weekend.

As a sidebar, it was good to see Logan Kons back in a Maryland rink. The former captain seemed to make a surprise appearance (at least a surprise to me) at Ice World. It wasn’t the greatest showing for the night he dropped the puck Friday, but it’s something that speaks to the culture that the Black Bears are trying to grow. Give players an experience that they won’t forget and want to keep coming back to see the new era of players, to be someone that the new players go to for advice on not only hockey, but playing in a junior league and thinking about college, to come back and enjoy the community that you lived in for a time in your life. Hopefully, as the years go on– we’ll see more and more Black Bears alum come back to continue that culture.

Next weekend, they go into another rival weekend against the Johnstown Tomahawks for, at the moment, will be the end of the 2020 portion of the schedule. Of course, make-up dates and such could be a thing– but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

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